Sport on TV: Blood on the tracks as gravy train goes off the rails

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The Independent Online
WHEN JUAN Antonio Samaranch was making his way in politics and hobnobbing with his Falangist chums, he used to sign his letters: "Always at your orders. I salute with my arm held high." As Franco's old mucker tries to pretend that everything's hunky dory with the Olympic movement, Panorama (BBC1, Monday) delivered its own salute to him, arm held high and two fingers extended upwards.

Accounts were given earlier this week of how he faced down his lapdogs at the International Olympic Committee, corralling members into an instant vote of confidence ("So that'll be 753 votes for me and two against, then"). It was difficult not to think of Robert de Niro as Al Capone in The Untouchables, keeping the boys in line by assiduous application of baseball bat to skull.

There wasn't a great deal of new material in the programme, although it was useful to be reminded of the repeated disappearance of positive B samples at Olympic Games held in the United States, and the strange business of Sergei Tarasov at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville - given somebody else's blood instead of his own, detained, ill, in his room then spirited away in secrecy.

What was new was Mark Tewksbury's account of a charmed life on the runaway gravy train. The Canadian, who won a swimming gold medal in 1992 then became a member of the IOC site evaluation committee - from which he resigned in disgust a few weeks ago - believes it's not just a case of one or two liggers spoiling it for everyone else. The entire system, he says, is corrupt.

"In one city alone," he said, "I received an Olympic torch, some ancient coins, a beautiful piece of artwork, a Mont Blanc pen and a leather writing pad - which by any stretch of the imagination exceeded the $150 limit."

The film's central thrust was that the IOC has repeatedly covered up drug scandals, the idea being, as Tewksbury puts it, that "the Olympics have become this brand, and at all costs that brand must be protected.

There was more drugs and cheating on BBC1, as Internal Affairs: Watchdogs (Monday) looked at the work of the stewards of the National Greyhound Racing Club.

There can be few lamer excuses than that given by trainer John Orme for a positive drugs test for one of his dogs (any medication they're on has to be stopped seven days before they race; Orme had left it only five before he gave Parkway Hunter a run-out at Nottingham).

"I played football and cricket all my life," he told the stewards, "and the rule was, you always turned up for the match... If I'd withdrawn the dog I'd have felt I'd been letting the side down." Summoned to London, he didn't help his cause by reading out a diatribe about trainers being singled out (it's difficult to know quite what else the NGRC can do if they want to combat drug abuse), and he was hit with a pounds 400 fine.

Another trainer, the likeable Stanley Deeley, had committed a similar offence with a dog who had been suffering a jaw infection. At the local inquiry he is blunt about his motivation. "I gave him a run to save his life," he tells the stewards. "The owner said: `He's no good to me if he's not running. Put him down'."

In London, he throws himself at the stewards' mercy, keeps any controversial views to himself and gets away with a reprimand.

Critics this week have had a few reprimands to dole out for Football Millionaires (BBC1, Tuesday), and it's true that it told us little beyond the fact that elite footballers are paid too much and that the lookers among them are treated like pop stars. It was indeed on the bland side, with an unrevealing and anodyne script (surprising given the presence as consultant of Colin Schindler, author of the entertaining Manchester United Ruined My Life).

But there were a few almost incidental pleasures, particularly the time devoted to two young men who serve radically different functions in the public domain. Michael Owen, 1998's shoe-in Sports Personality Of The Year, probably earns roughly the same as David Beckham yet this remarkably centred and self-composed and young man is not seen as one of the new brats. His mum gives autographs, for goodness' sake.

As a Man Utd fan, I may be biased in his favour, but Beckham came across as a sensitive soul. He may not be articulate nor have an especially expressive face, but the pain that still hangs over from those unforgettable events last summer was there on his face when Hansen asked him about how he thinks he is perceived now.

"I think there's more people that don't like me than like me," he said with a sad smile. "I'd like to be really popular but I don't think that's going to happen no more." You felt proper sorry for him.

Hansen asked him about how the England team treated him after the game as he sat by himself outside the dressing room. "Tony Adams sat down with me. He was brilliant with me. Absolutely brilliant. And I needed it at that time."

And Glenn Hoddle? "He didn't speak to me." If ever a nation needed reassurance that a correct course of action has been taken (albeit for the wrong reasons), that little detail provided it in spades.

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